“You wouldn’t be here, otherwise.”
“Very well. What are you trying to get at? What do you mean by ’some extravagant impulse’?”
“I’m afraid”—O’Reilly hesitated, then voiced a fear which had troubled him more than he cared to acknowledge—“I’m afraid of some silly entanglement, some love affair—”
Norine’s laughter rang out, spontaneous, unaffected. It served to relieve the momentary tension which had sprung up between them.
“All these men are attracted to you, as it is quite natural they should be,” O’Reilly hurried on. “I’m worried to death for fear you’ll forget that you’re too blamed good for any of them.”
“What a conscientious duenna you are!” she told him, “but rest easy; I’m thoroughly homesick, and ready to flunk it all at the first good excuse. I’ll make you a promise, Johnnie. If I decide to fall in love with any of these ragged heroes I’ll choose you. Most of them think there is something between us, anyhow.”
“I don’t quite understand how I manage to resist you,” O’Reilly told her, “for I think you’re perfectly splendid. Probably that’s why I’d hate to see you married to some one-legged veteran of this amateur war.”
“Women don’t marry legs,” she told him, lightly. Then, more seriously, she asked, “What are you doing about Rosa?”
“I’m waiting to hear from Matanzas Province. When I joined the army I had to go where I was sent, of course, but General Gomez has started inquiries, and as soon as I learn something definite I shall follow it up. I shall go where the trail leads.”
“You still have hope?”
He nodded. “I refuse to let myself doubt.”
When O’Reilly joined Judson for supper the latter met him with a broad grin on his face. “Well,” said he, “it seems you started something with your game of ‘Vittles.’ You can get ready to saddle up when the moon rises.”
“What do you mean?”
“The colonel took Miss Evans at her word. We’re going to raid San Antonio de los Banos—two hundred of us—to get her some pickles, and jam, and candy, and tooth-powder.”
THAT SICK MAN FROM SAN ANTONIO
Certain histories of the Cuban War for Independence speak of “The Battle of San Antonio de los Banos.” They relate how one thousand patriots captured the village after a gallant and sanguinary resistance by its Spanish garrison; how they released the prisoners in the local jail, replenished their own supplies, and then retired in the face of enemy reinforcements. It is quite a stirring story to read and it has but one fault, a fault, by the way, not uncommon in histories—it is mainly untrue.